Culture & Entertainment

Exclusive: Halle Bailey Says Her Locs Are The ‘Essence’ Of Who She Is On- And Off-Screen

The debut of the 2023 film adaptation of The Little Mermaidwas bigger than me. It was a major moment for my inner child who loved watching the original 1989, as well as the 2000 sequel The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, but didn’t know that she could be a mermaid. Though I was never a fan of swimming - or really any aquatic activity - I saw myself in the character of Ariel because she loved to sing, be with friends, and be magical and mystical all day long.

The problem was I didn’t identify as a white woman with red hair and blue eyes.

The casting announcement of Grammy-nominated singer and actress Halle Bailey in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid was nothing less than monumental. While we waited a few years to see the official character posters and trailers, I knew that having a Gen-Z Black girl play one of my favorite Disney princesses was going to shake the table for years to come - especially as someone who has always worn her natural hair.

“My relationship with my natural hair started very young. My mother actually locked my sister and I [our hair] when we were around five-ish years old, and so I have not known my life without my locs,” Halle told me during an interview about her and her sister Chlöe Bailey’s loc journey as she noted the spiritual importance of her hair journey. “I'm just grateful to be able to make my version of Ariel have my hair. I was so grateful that Rob Marshall, the director, allowed the essence of Halle to flow through who Ariel is. Especially as a Black woman, it's important for us to be able to see our hair be represented in these different roles.”

Halle Bailey attends the world premiere of Disney's live-action film The Little Mermaid.

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

According to Variety’s interview with Oscar-nominated hair department head Camille Friend, one of the biggest challenges of bringing Bailey’s locs to life was embodying the spirit of the original Disney princess while maintaining the health and integrity of the actress’ natural tresses.

“It was a really interesting one because I had never colored my hair before. I was excited about it,” Bailey told xoNecole about the dying and coloring process of her hair for her Disney princess debut. “When I saw myself with red roots for the first time, I was like, Whoa, because my whole life, it’s been dark brown. My natural hair is just dark brown, so it was really cool to see myself like that.”

As the first Black Disney princess to star in a live-action movie, representation was key, and both Friend and Bailey knew they had to use their platform to demonstrate to young girls that staying true to your heritage and cultural identity is first and foremost. Working carefully with her natural 24” locs, the wrapping process took a total of 12 to 14 hours to create the 30” custom-colored locs with three shades of red and Keratin tips.

"I'm not guesstimating, but we probably spent at least $150,000 because we had to redo it and take it out. You couldn't use it, and we'd have to start again. It was a process," Friend told Variety about the process following the hair at a beauty store in Chatsworth, CA. In an effort to put on the finishing touches of their hair to make it "dance" as Bailey moved through the water, Friend added loose body wave-type extensions to give a goddess, beachy-appeal for the final product.

The "ROYL" singer was no stranger to her responsibility as a vessel for change when it comes to the versatility of natural hair. Following the representation of microbraids in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella by Brandy, Bailey is the second Disney princess to wear a natural protective style as royalty.

From her 70s-style fro on the cover of EDITION by Modern Luxury to an auburn-red bob at this year's Met Gala, Bailey has proven that locs are more adaptable than the mainstream beauty industry believes. "I think it was just so important for me because it's the essence of who I am really. It's all I've known my whole life."

"I think it was just so important for me because it's the essence of who I am really. It's all I've known my whole life."

Halle Bailey attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty."

Cindy Ord/MG23/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Bailey continued, "I think that when Rob Marshall and Disney wanted me, it was a beautiful thing for them to want all of me and to not just pick and choose pieces of me, and allowed me to just be completely myself as a Black woman and show all the layers that come with that. I feel like mermaids would have locs, too. I feel like being under the water and your hair, I feel like it would fuse into locs anyways, like how it does in the movie."

"I think that when Rob Marshall and Disney wanted me, it was a beautiful thing for them to want all of me and to not just pick and choose pieces of me, and allowed me to just be completely myself as a Black woman and show all the layers that come with that."

In addition to being under the sea, Bailey feels on top of the world when she's indulging in activities and surrounding herself with things and people that she loves - both personally and professionally. "I think I feel my most happy and beautiful when I'm doing the things that I love, and I'm warm," Bailey said sweetly with a cherubic smile plastered across her face.

"When I'm warm, number one, when I'm in the sun and just kind of sunbathing, or when I'm quiet, or also when I'm underwater," she added. "Since this movie, I've really discovered a passion for diving and just have this curiosity and wonder for honestly the ocean now. I love scuba diving because it's so quiet down there, and you just kind of go into this meditative space and gratefulness when you get to see how massive this world is above and below us. It's really a cool perspective."

Now, in the midst of being a Disney princess, chugging along weeks of press runs and preparation, and gearing up to star in The Color Purple with Danielle Brooks and Fantasia, how does Halle balance it all? One word: Faith.

"I think I truly just put God at the forefront of my life. I remember that I'm here for a reason, and this is all happening because of God. I think that it's easy for me to stay grounded and humble when I remember that I am just being used as a vessel for good and love and light," Halle said humbly about being rooted in her relationship with her Lord and Savior, who is truly the head of her life. "

"I just hope that whatever is meant to be in my life, God just steers me in the right direction. I think I love being in nature the most because I love when I can feel small and that this is a great big world and that these things, even though this movie feels massive on days like this, and it's a lot of pressure to live up to, it's really nice to just lay back and realize that we're all just small crumbs in this universe. I'm just really grateful to be able to do what I love here and make a living out of what I love and just follow in whatever journey I'm supposed to be in."

The Little Mermaid is now in theaters.

Featured image by Don Arnold/WireImage via Getty Images



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